It would be hard to imagine a news event better tailored to MSNBC’s Venn diagram of “lean forward” liberals and “place for politics” political junkies. Yet when Hillary Clinton, the Democrats’ presumptive 2016 presidential nominee, held a news conference about her private email use last week — a media frenzy that functioned, albeit inadvertently, as the informal launch to her highly anticipated campaign — less than 13 percent of the total cable news audience was tuned to the network.
The low turnout wasn’t a fluke: Year-to-date, MSNBC’s daytime viewership is down 21 percent overall and 41 percent in the coveted 25-to-54-year-old demographic, putting it in fourth place behind Fox News, CNN and CNN’s sister network HLN. Its prime-time ratings are down 24 percent and 42 percent, respectively. In both daytime and prime time, MSNBC is bringing in its smallest share of the demo since 2005, the year before Keith Olbermann’s scorched-earth admonitions of the Bush administration ushered in the current era of Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz and Al Sharpton.
In a memo to staff in December, MSNBC President Phil Griffin conceded that the network is suffering: “It’s no secret that 2014 was a difficult year for the entire cable news industry and especially for MSNBC,” he wrote. But change was coming, Griffin promised, with “more announcements in the New Year.”